I promised a friend a long time ago to keep this up on the web for him. He probably doesn’t care anymore, but a promise is a promise… and since he has ghost written a popular christian book and is now working on his own book, I can say i knew him when ;)
This was originally put on the web around: 7-7-03
IntroductionRighteousness is often misunderstood and incorrectly defined amongst Christians today. This extremely important characteristic of every Christian must of necessity be understood, or we face the consequences of living under a lie. Misconceptions of righteousness have caused many Christians to fall into legalism and others to misunderstand the gospel in its entirety. It is both vital and apparent that Christians need to stop overlooking this word and begin to grasp the truth about righteousness. To understand Biblical righteousness as it relates to the Christian, we must first know that righteousness has many different definitions. In this particular piece of literature, we will be discussing four specific types of righteousness:
- the righteousness of the world
- the righteousness of God
- the righteousness by works
- the righteousness by faith
We will begin by investigating the secular definition for righteousness and discovering how that definition has contaminated the Christian?s perception of Biblical righteousness.
Righteousness of the World
The secular view of righteousness has no stated or exact definition, but the general consensus can be derived from a combination of etymology and the social thought of today. According to the Webster-Merriam dictionary, righteousness is defined as “acting in accord with divine or moral law: freedom from guilt or sin: morally right or justifiable.” According to the ancient Greek world, righteousness (Dikaiosune) basically means “conformity to a higher standard.” By combining these two definitions with the current, social thought, the following explanation can be inferred as to the present and most common interpretation for righteousness. Righteousness is intrinsically living according to a higher standard. Whether the standard be one?s personal prerogative, a set of laws or a set of personal values, most people have some type of an internal standard that subtly exists in their minds. This standard allows them to overcome guilt by both determining right and wrong for themselves and not participating in what they perceive as wrong. The current trend in personal standards in today?s post-modern culture is the destruction of any thought that judges a certain action as wrong. And for those who still have limits in their standards, the limits are always relative and subject to change. One specific, secular definition for righteousness will never be agreed upon by everyone, but the general idea that has been stated is widely accepted among philosophers of the late 20th century.
The pertinent knowledge that a Christian should gain from the secular definition deals with the vital errors found in the defintion. For the most part, righteousness (which is a noun) is defined and explained as an action. Righteousness is not acting or living in accord with a higher standard; rather, it is a state of being (as denoted by the grammatical form of the word). This small error, though it is apparently minute and unimportant, has polluted the Biblical definition.
With that brief understanding of the present perception of righteousness and the present misconception of rightoeusness, we must now defer to the purpose at hand, seeking to discover and to know the Biblical definition of righteousness. To understand Biblical righteousness, we must weed out the lies from the world?s definition about righteousness that are subtly implanted in all of our minds. Most Christian authors and pastors teach that the definition of Biblical righteousness is different than the world?s idea, but unfortunately, some of the subtle misconceptions still remain. One of the misconceptions comes directly from the secular definition of righteousness and the other comes from a simple mistake made in defining it. To find these errors, we need to look at the current definition for righteousness agreed upon in most Christian circles. The three most popular definitions given when a church leader is asked about the definition of righteousness are as follows:
- Being right with God
- Having a right relationship (right standing) with God
- Right living (in accordance to God?s commands)
Though these definitions are seemingly correct at first glance, because of their popularity amongst Christian leaders and teachers, not one of these definitions is entirely correct or Biblically sound. The first two definitions have the same error. They describe biblically sound results of righteousness, but not the pith (or essence) of the word. Any scholar understands that a word cannot be defined by its result; it would be like defining a hurricane as massive destruction. The hurricane brings massive destruction, and righteousness brings right standing with God, but the result must not be mistaken for the definition or essence of the word. For the third definition, the problem lies in the grammatical form of the word. A noun cannot be defined as an action, or else, it would be a verb. This is the same error that was found in the secular defintion of righteousness. Not only is the definition incorrect because it is describing an action, but it is also giving a brief definition for an entirely different word in the Bible: obedience. Righteousness cannot be summed up by stating the definition for obedience. Even though we will see that they are related to each other, these two biblical words are separate in meaning. With the dismissal of three common misconceptions of righteousness and the understanding of the world?s definition for it, we must clear our minds of any previous perception, take out our Bibles, and pursue the very sum and substance of righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Righteousness of God
The second type of righteousness that needs to be understood is the inherent righteousness of God. The righteousness that belongs to our God is incomparable to man?s righteousness. In the same way that God?s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9), His Righteousness is also separate and Divine. According to Romans 3:26, God is dikaios (Righteous). The implications of His Righteousness are as follows:
1) He will never differ from Himself or change from His constant Ways.
2) He will always conform to Himself and submit to His own Ways because He cannot differ in His actions from whom He is.
Therefore, God is Righteous, and we should be thankful, but we need to go further and consider how God?s inherent Righteousness affects mankind. In the same way that an inventor has all rights over his patented inventions, God has an inherent right over His creation. God has the right to command His creation to obey Him and to carry out any duty that He decrees. Since God is righteous and just and since He is the highest standard (Greek: dike), He holds the authority to demand duties from everyone else. In the beginning of time, Adam perfectly obeyed every command from God until he ate the forbidden fruit. Adam lost his righteousness by rebelling against his Righteous Lord. God also has the right to demand perfect obedience from each one of us, yet we, too, have decided to deny His inherent right to be our Lord. This denial and rebellion has warranted our unrighteousness. The question that now remains is, “How can man attain righteousness again in the eyes of the Lord?”
Righteousness by Law
From the first sacrifices by Cain and Abel, man had already determined two separate ways to answer the question regaining righteousness. Abel slaughtered an animal and presented the fat portions to God while Cain gave God the first fruits of the harvest. Abel?s sacrifice of an animal?s life showed his understanding that only a substitute, blood sacrifice could atone his sins and make him righteous (the animal sacrifice was a symbol for Christ?s sacrifice in the future). On the other side, Cain gave his best offering. He had worked hard and sacrificed much, yet the Lord rejected his offering because it was simply the work of a sinful man. Cain?s offering revealed his belief that performing works in the sight of God and man would warrant atonement for his sin and would earn righteousness in the eyes of God.
In the same way that Cain fell quickly into being righteous by works, we too have succumbed to following our own laws of righteousness and to trying to gain righteousness by works. Romans 10:3 describes our situation perfectly in saying, “Not knowing about God?s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (emphasis added). Because of the lack of understanding about the righteousness which is of God, Isreal sought to establish their own, and to accomplish that goal, they began pursuing a law of righteousness by works. Romans 9:31 explains the end result of Isreal?s pursuit of righteousness by obeying a law in saying, “But Isreal, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.” Most of us in the present-day church of America have fallen into the same deception. We are trying to be “right with God” and “live righteously” by obeying and doing what we know to be right and good, and when we fail, we feel that we are not right with God. The error in all of this thinking is that we are fallible men and women who are filled with imperfections. Romans 3:23 explains that we cannot become right with God by what we do because “We have all fallen short.” None of us can perfectly obey the law. The purpose of the law that is written on our hearts (conscience) is that “through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Doing and obeying the commandments as imperfectly as we do will never merit righteousness.
Paul explains why the Isrealites failed in their pursuit of righteousness in verses 32 & 33 of Romans 9 in saying,
- “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, ? a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
Paul uses two different prophesies here from Isaiah 28:16 and Isaiah 8:14 to show how working to attain righteousness rather than just believing in Him and being reckoned as righteous is a great place of stumbling for many of God?s people. He implies that pursuing righteousness by means of works will only lead to failure and disappointment. This stone of stumbling is deceivingly prevalent in the church today. I could write three more books on the symptoms in the present church caused by a works-based righteousness, but I do not wish to tarry upon the effects of the problem. We need to understand the core of the deception concerning righteousness so that we may lay aside this demonic doctrine of righteousness by works and the law and replace it with the truth about true righteousness by faith.Righteousness by Faith
Finally, we shall now unpack the very essence of righteousness as the Holy Spirit powerfully illuminates the Word of God. Righteousness (or being righteous) is a state of the heart (Romans 10:10a) that cannot be measured by a law or by man (1 Corinthians 4:3,4) . It is the inner belief (the act of the mind and spirit called “faith”) that man is inferior to his Creator and cannot attain right standing with God by fulfilling the law perfectly. Man understands in his heart and proclaims with his will that “I have no rights, but rather, my godly right is to obey and carry out the duties and desires that God has the right (Inherent Righteousness) to give me and command me with” (Romans 10:3). This faith in God?s superiority is a mindset and a choice of the will. It is not an action or an outward work, but rather a deep-rooted faith in the Lordship of God. This true faith reveals the inherent Righteousness of God [or His Right to accomplish whatever he wants in the lives of men] (Romans1:17). Man can only become righteous if the Holy Spirit initiates and imparts a humility and submission into the will of man. This is why man cannot produce “righteousness” by obeying a law, for no man is perfect and all men have violated the law leaving none who are righteous or good (Romans 3:10-12,19-23). After the Holy Spirit empowers man to willfully claim God as Lord (Romans 10:9), then good deeds will naturally flow out of the believing man (Note: obedience is not a prerequisite to righteousness, it is a result of righteousness.) The righteous man will not be perfect or sinless (Ecclesiastes 7:20), just blameless and righteous in the eyes of God. This man who trusts in Christ becomes `the righteousness of God in Christ`(2 Corinthians 5:21). The man becomes in Christ all that God requires a man to be, all that he could never be in himself. Man finally meets the requirements (Micah 6:8), attains the higher standard (God?s Holy Standard), and conforms to the Righteousness of God when he lives in Christ by faith. In conclusion, true righteousness is a state of the heart, the inner belief, that man is inferior to his Creator and cannot attain right standing with God by fulfilling the law perfectly. Man understands in his heart and proclaims with his will that “I have no rights, but rather, my godly right is to obey and carry out the duties and desires that God has the right to give.” It is not an action or an outward work, but rather a deep-rooted faith in the Lordship of God.
When we as Christians begin to just be righteous and stop trying to become righteous or maintain our righteousness, both stress and anxiety will give way to a new peace and a natural tendency of obedience. With our whole-hearted acknowledgment of Christ as Lord at our salvation, God has reckoned us as righteous, and nothing more needs to be done.